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Why do low IQ women dominate high IQ men on certain memory tasks?

Why do low IQ women dominate high IQ men on certain memory tasks?

The female advantage is episodic memory

Episodic memory is a type of long-term memory. It’s memories of your first day at school, attending a friend's birthday party, your first kiss, and your sister’s graduation. And it’s not just your memory of the event, but of the location and the time that the event occurred.

In general, the smarter someone is the better their long-term memory, which is why this graph is remarkable:

The graph shows performance by sex on face recognition memory tasks. I’ve represented women with the pink line because I’m a sexist monster. Look at the first point. That’s where women with estimated IQs in the 60-80 range score. For men to do that well, they need to have IQs in the 121-140 range! A 130 IQ puts you in the top 2 per cent of the population and is considered gifted.

To understand how odd this result is you have to understand what life is like for people with IQs in the 60-80 range. Such people usually cannot go beyond what’s called Level One literacy. As intelligence researcher Linda Gottfredson notes:

Adults at this literacy level are typically able to carry out only very simple tasks, such as locating the expiration date on a driver’s license or totalling a bank deposit slip, but they typically cannot perform more difficult tasks, such as locating two particular pieces of information in a sports article. {…} Most routine communications with businesses and social service agencies, including job applications, are thus beyond the capabilities of persons with only Level 1 literacy. Their problem is not that they cannot read the words, but that they are not able to understand or use the ideas that the words convey.

So women who struggle with such tasks do just as well on verbal memory tasks as college-educated teachers, accountants, and managers. When it comes to face recall, they do significantly better than such people. 

The correlation between females’ verbal recall ability and IQ is small, but for face recall ability it’s near zero. Whereas men do use IQ related cognition for both verbal and face recall tasks. So, if women aren’t using IQ related cognition to beat men, what are they using?

The potential answer is just as interesting as the question. It’s long been known that women are better at detecting emotions in faces, especially negative emotions. So this gave the kinesiologist Jennifer Heisz an idea.

Heisz tracked the way men and women move their eyes as they scan faces. Both generally started at the centre and looked at the same features — eyes, nose, mouth — but women made more eye movements between the features. This increased scanning generates a more vivid picture in the mind. 

So the differences between men and women aren’t in how they retrieve memories, but in how they encode them. Women are using more efficient processes. This discovery may even allow researchers to find new ways of helping people with memory problems.

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